City of Wilm. considers new guidelines for economic development funding

WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) – Business recruiters often keep their work quiet to protect the identities of companies, but that secrecy can lead some to wonder what economic development groups actually do and how effective they are.

Wilmington City Council is considering new guidelines to help decide which business groups to support with taxpayer funding.

"We believe a process is needed to better evaluate these requests and hold recipients accountable," City Manager Sterling Cheatham wrote in a letter to council.

The current city budget includes nearly $335,000 in funding to Wilmington Business Development, Wilmington Downtown Inc., Wilmington Regional Film Commission, and UNCW's Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

Under the proposed guidelines, agencies requesting city funds would have to explain how they would increase jobs, how they would generate a return on the city's investment and the sources of their other revenue streams.

Applicants would also have to identify at least two milestones they plan to achieve, and, if funded, compare those goals with actual results.

The city pays non-profit Wilmington Business Development (WBD) nearly $85,000 to attract employers to the area and to support existing companies.

WBD President Scott Satterfield explained that his organization has partnered with the city for nearly 60 years and is already accountable to city council.

"This memorializes what we've been doing for many years," he said.

As part of its funding contract, the business group sets annual performance measures, including the city's tax base and number of jobs added.

Satterfield said even though most of WBD's budget comes from private sources, the city's support sends an important message.

"When we're presenting our region to potential investors, it is important for them to see that there is partnership amongst the public and the private sector," Satterfield said.

Wilmington City Council is expected to vote on the proposed funding guidelines at its regular meeting Tuesday night.

Copyright 2014 WECT. All rights reserved.  AP contributed to this report.